How to Improve Readability and Engagement

A lot of content marketers forget how important it is for your audience to digest the information packed in your content. Easy to read content is clear, concise and adds value in each sentence. It also keeps your reader hooked. In this post, I will show you how to improve readability and engagement of your copy.

There are some basic things that I assume you can take care of. These include:

Step 0 Using correct grammar and spelling.

Step 0.1 Getting someone else to proofread before publishing.

Here’s the thing…

Correct grammar and proofreading are quite important. You may be able to get away with poor grammar if your copy has got some rare and informative technical content. Troubleshooting articles are a good example of this.

Also, it is not a good idea to proofread your own copy.

This study published in 2014 found that catching your own typos is harder.

If you do not believe you can achieve these, you should hire a professional copywriter to edit your copy.

Here are the steps to improve the readability of your content:

1. Increase your Flesch Reading Score

What is Flesch reading score you ask?

Flesch Reading Ease Test – a measure of readability

If you use SEO plugins that test your content for readability, you may already be familiar with this. Flesch reading ease score is a metric that attempts to measure the textual difficulty of your content.

I say ‘attempt’ because it’s just a mathematical formula that makes a lot of assumptions. For example, it does not consider important factors like context, user’s prior knowledge, user’s interest level and difficulty of concepts.

It is a handy metric as you can’t optimize what you can’t measure.

If you use WordPress, you can use Yoast’s SEO plugin to calculate your score automatically. Alternatively, you can use this online tool to calculate your Flesch reading ease score.

The key is to keep your sentences short, use words with two to three syllables and avoid jargon.

2. Assume that you are talking directly to your average audience.

Create a persona of your ideal customer or audience and write every sentence as if you are talking directly to them. This helps a great deal when trying to keep the user engaged. If your average customer or audience is a soccer mom, assume that you are sitting in a room with one and talking to her.

Here’s another way to make it a bit easier…

Print the photo of a person of a similar age and build to your ideal customer, name the person (let’s say Todd) and put the photo on your office wall. Now, every time you write, assume that you are talking to Todd.

Keep in mind their goals, financial situation, career satisfaction, political preferences and everything else in between.

3. Talk about one topic at a time.

Believe me…

If you know a lot about a subject, it can be quite tempting to let your thoughts run loose and randomly hop from one idea to another.

However, to a reader, this can be very confusing. Too many topics going on at once can be off putting and may lead to an early drop off.

Be thoughtful of your user and do not raise more than one topic at a time.

4. Transition between the different ideas in your copy smoothly.

Establish a link between the different ideas in your copy. The idea is to make your copy coherent. In other words, to assure the reader that you are not hopping from one idea to the other.

Use ‘transitional tags’ if necessary.

What are transitional tags?

Here’s an excerpt from grammar.ccc.commnet.edu

Transitional tags run the gamut from the most simple — the little conjunctions: and, but, nor, for, yet, or, (and sometimes) so — to more complex signals that ideas are somehow connected — the conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions such as however, moreover, nevertheless, on the other hand.

The article also gives you some tags that will help you ‘transition’.

transitional tags examples

5. Add appropriate headlines for each section of your copy.

This user behavior study revealed how readers scan through your content in an F shaped pattern.

user behaviour eyetracking study

The important takeaway from the conclusion of this study is to make use of headings, paragraphs and bullet points. It also suggests to add the most important message in the first two paragraphs of your copy.

Adding sub-headings to your copy makes your content more scannable.

So, not only does it improve readability, it also gives you an opportunity to highlight the main message of a paragraph in case the reader decides to skip the long version.

6. Avoid fluff.

Be concise, if you can convey a message in 20 words, there is no need to use 30 just to increase the word count.

Always remember…

Write for humans, not Search Engines.

7. Pictures are worth a thousand words, use them.

meme for copy

Using related pictures helps keep your readers engaged. It also communicates your message better to your target audience.

Do I need to purchase the images?

Good question.

Answer to this question is – ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Here’s a whole list of websites that provide breathtaking stock images for FREE.

free photos are awesome

If you have a proven sense of humor, adding memes to your copy can also work wonders. In fact, if the meme is good, it can provide you with multiple back links.

8. Choose your design layout and fonts wisely

You should not undermine the importance of good design. An easy to read font and an aesthetically pleasing layout can dramatically improve user experience. And yes…  readability is a part of the user experience.

This aspect is particularly important if the competition in your niche is HIGH.

9. Create listicles if appropriate.

As the name suggests, a listicle is an article on the internet presented in the form of a list.

Chances are that you have already come across a lot of them. It looks something like:

“X best songs of 2015”

Why are they so popular?

Perhaps because of our small attention span. We like to digest information in small packets.

Imagine this…

You are taking a small break from work. Wouldn’t you rather read scan a few 700 word articles broken down into 5 – 7 points instead of a massive 3000 word article you had saved for a later read? 9 out of 10 times, I would.

Some people complain that this form of content is overused. It probably is.

But, the fact remains that it is an eminent media format and is not going anywhere for a while.

A word on listicles…

I have been confronted several times on social media about how super annoying listicles are, hence I must warn you to be sure not to overuse this format.

10. Use bucket brigade phrases if appropriate.

This, by far is one of my favorite techniques to improve the readability and engagement. Primarily because of it’s ease of implementation and the results it has produced for me.

Bucket brigades:

Just like transitional tags, bucket brigades help keeping the reader focused.

A bucket brigade phrase binds one idea to the next one.

This technique gets it’s name from a method for transporting items where items are passed from one stationary person to the next.

The bucket brigade phrases are much the same. The job of each phrase is to smoothly transition the reader’s attention to the next idea and (an additional task of) keeping him or her curious.

Here are a few that you have already come across in this post:

bucket brigade example

As you can see, they look something like:

  • Bottom line is…
  • Trust me on this…
  • Not only that…
  • I must warn you…
  • Let’s face it…

As you can notice, these phrases keep you glued to the copy, wanting to finish it all.

These are some of my favorite techniques to help improve the readability of your copy. Let me know which technique you like the best in the comment section below:

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